Why Toys Matter: Play and Child Development
Children learn best through play. It’s really just that simple. They don’t learn more through flashcards, educational TV shows, or worksheets. Play has all the benefits of being fun and the research supports that it is how kids learn the best. In a research article by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff many benefits of play are outlined. There are specific links to playing and literacy, language, social skills, and mathematics. In fact, there is a study proving that daycare centers that use child-centered, play-based models of teaching score better in tests of learning, reading, mathematics, and language when compared to daycares that use less playful, teacher-directed learning.
All this to say that playing matters because learning happens through play. The toys kids play with impact their desire to play and how they play. It’s important that we examine the kind of toys our kids play with so they can get the most out of their toys.
Traditional Toys vs Electronic Toys: What’s the Big difference?
Well to state the obvious, the main difference is that electronic toys have some sort of power source (either plugged into something or battery operated), whereas traditional toys do not. Electronic toys may have electronic sound, movement, or a screen component. While traditional toys have been around for as long as children have, electronic toys were first made in 1901. The Lionel Train Company made the first battery-operated toy train to display in a shop window. (Check out more history of the electronic toy here.) Since then, many incredible variations on electronic toys have flooded the market.
Electronic toys include items that make sounds, move, or light up. They also include any type of screen, televisions, tablets, computers, and phones.
While electronic toys create their own sounds and actions, traditional toys are more likely to promote creativity and imagination on the part of the child. But are tech toys as bad as we once thought? Read on to hear more about traditional toys vs electronic toys.
Pros and Cons of Traditional Toys
Pros of Traditional Toys:
In a study by Anna V Sosa 26 pairs of children and their caregivers played together in three different conditions. In one condition they played with a traditional toy, in the second condition they played with an electronic toy, and in the third condition, they played with a book. The study has amazing findings that mostly highlight the benefits of interaction with non-electronic toys and books. The list below captures how traditional toys foster many positive outcomes.
- help children learn mathematical skills
- promote overall language and literacy development
- promote more parent responses during play
- support an increase in back and forth conversational turns
- produce a wider range of vocabulary used from the caregiver
- help children say more words in an interaction
- create many opportunities for imagination
- give children opportunities for lots of creativity
- may include ways to improve fine and gross motor skils
*If you need specific ideas for great toys, check out my post here of the best toys for two-year olds.
Cons of Traditional Toys
- may initially seem less engaging if a child is used to electronic toys
Pros and Cons of Electronic Toys and Screen Time
Pros of Electronic Toys
- may be more stimulating with sounds, lights, and moving parts
- teach early technological skills, a growing part of everyday life
- may target specific skills like literacy, cognition, and language (for children 24 months and older)
- may work on following directions or sequencing
- can facilitate social interaction when used well
Cons of Electronic Toys
- yield less back and forth conversational turns with caregivers
- decrease teaching from caregivers
- require less creativity and imagination
- may negatively impact the variety of vocabulary used by adults
- decrease the number of responses from both children and adults
- may be overstimulating
- for children under 2 seem to have little to no benefit even when they are marketed as “educational”
- may lead to childhood obesity
- may decrease overall sleep time when used in the bedroom
Electronic toys aren’t as evil as we once thought.
Although there are certainly many advantages to using traditional toys, electronic toys can be utilized well. This article outlines the possible reason why we have demonized electronic toys, and how it might not be so bad.
Electronic toys offer a different approach to learning new skills that may entice some more hesitant children to learn them through traditional ways. The biggest difference in a variety of articles seems to be how well we as adults interact with children when playing with electronic toys. So the good news is that if we can change our interaction style as caregivers, we can improve the outcomes when our children play with electronic toys.
Children aged 3 and up can benefit from well-designed television shows, applications, and other electronic toys. They can learn cognitive, language, and social skills if the right items are chosen. The biggest difficulty is knowing which items to choose.
If you choose electronic toys try these tips:
If you choose to use electronic toys, there are some specific things you can work on in order to make the play more engaging and beneficial for your child. The American Association of Pediatrics emphasizes the need for adults to interact meaningfully with children as they play with electronic toys or watch television shows.
- Take time to explain what is happening in the television show.
- Be sure to use plenty of conversational turns when playing with an electronic toy.
- Connect things that are said from toys or shows to the rest of your life throughout the day.
- Limit overall screen time.
- Show your child different ways to interact with the toys to promote creativity.
- Identify and use a variety of vocabulary words that you can say during play with electronic toys.
- Monitor the type of content your child is exposed to when on a device.
So…Should my child play with electronic toys?
Honestly, the research is a little all over the place when it comes to whether or not our kids should use electronics. I suspect that at some point it will become more normalized, as electronics themselves have become more a part of our everyday. However, we should be wary of the current research that warns of the negative effects of electronic toys.
I think having some electronic toys can be a good thing, so long as you have a blend of both electronic and traditional. In regard to screen time, it does seem necessary to limit your child’s amount of screen time and the type of content they watch.
I’d love to hear from you!
What kind of rules do you have set in your home around screen time? What are your thoughts on the research around caregiver and child interactions with different types of toys? I’d love to hear from you!